A Free People’s Suicide

It has been a while since my last post and for those of you who frequent my blog (the undoubtedly few of you) I apologize for the lack of fresh content. However, that being said the 2012 presidential election has just finished and President Obama won re-election. It is in this political spirit that I write today.

I have just finished watching a lecture given by Os Guinness titled “A Free People’s Suicide”. I found his address insightful and extremely applicable to the place American’s find themselves in history today. The address was given earlier this year in New York and I will embed the video below my post with every hope that you will invest 40 minutes to watch it.

The topic that Os Guinness takes up in his address is the topic of “freedom” a word that everyone (both on the political right and left) claims to be fighting for. Guinness begins his address by quoting St. Augustine who once famously said that,

A nation can be judged by the loved things held in common.

In other words, if what a nation holds dear is nobel than you can assume that the nation is nobel. Augustine put forward that it is not the size or population of a nation that defined it but its “loved things held in common.” Guinness puts forward the idea that in the 230 so years that America has existed “freedom” has been America’s “loved thing held in common”. He states that freedom was what the founders not only set out to acquire for the nation but also to SUSTAIN for the nation.

Guinness showed that the framers of America had three main tasks:

  1. Acquiring Freedom,
  2. Ordering Freedom, &
  3. Sustaining Freedom

The first two of their tasks were not unique to America. Other countries like France, Japan, & Russia had all acquired freedom. Furthermore, nations like France had also ordered freedom in a constitution like America. However, it is the third task of the framers that was unique to America, namely the framer’s concern with making freedom sustainable. The question the founders where always asking themselves was how they were doing in perpetuating freedom. The reason that the founders where always worried about sustaining freedom was because they saw that freedom has three main menaces.

  1. Outside Force
  2. A Corruption of Customs
  3. Time

The framers did not concern themselves with the threat of an outside force taking their freedom because, particularly at that time, America had no real threat. However, the framers took real concern in how the second and third menace to freedom where affecting America.

When it comes to a Corruption of Customs the framers knew that a corruption to the traditions and virtues of the people would ultimately lead to a corruption of the constitution (if not in language, definitely in application). And time is the menace that the framers where most worried about. They understood that with each knew generation the ideals of American tradition and freedom must be understood afresh. Without ownership of freedom, freedom is lost.

The reason that these last two menaces (Corruption of customs and time) worried the framers so much is because they understood that freedom is a paradox. What Guinness goes on to show about the paradox of freedom is that the largest threat to freedom is freedom. What comes most naturally with freedom is a lack of restraint and it is exactly this lack of self-restraint that undermines freedom. Freedom is not the permission to do what you like but the power to do what you ought. When freedom is only understood by the idea that one can do whatever they want. then freedom immediately comes under threat of extinction. Personal responsibility is the greatest defense of freedom.

After showing the framers deep concern for making freedom sustainable Guinness goes on to present what he calls The Golden Triangle of Freedom. What makes The Golden Triangle of Freedom so intriguing is that it is self sustaining. The three legs or pegs of the triangle are:

  1. Freedom Requires Virtue
  2. Virtue Requires Faith
  3. Faith Requires Freedom

You can immediately see that each peg is sustained and dependent on each other. There can be no freedom unless the people who obtain that freedom are under some sort of code of virtues or ethics. It is for this reason that the founders were so apologetic towards Christianity. This is in no means to say that they desired to found a Christian nation but that they knew that freedom could not be sustained without virtue. This leads into the second peg that virtue requires faith. The state cannot be the maker of virtue. The state must be accountable to a higher power that makes virtue. If there is nothing above the state advocating virtue then there is no inspiration for virtue and no consequence for lacking virtue. Lastly faith requires freedom. There must be freedom to publicly express one’s faith in order for virtues to be promoted in a society and thus freedom to be sustained.

Guinness points out that at all three of these pegs the nation of America has been in serious decline in the past 100-150 years. The idea that virtues should be paramount in our society and that faith should be allowed in the public square are ideas that the founders thought necessary for the sustainability of freedom but are seen as hinderances to progress by many cultural elites in our own day.

I strongly suggest that you check out this video. I think that it will challenge everyone who watches it in a very positive way regardless of your political affiliations.

Thanks for reading what I think was my longest post!

Michael

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